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Gulf illnesses to come under a new review

Web-posted: 7:20 a.m. Oct. 28, 2000

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is reversing itself on who was exposed to nerve gas during the Persian Gulf War, and who was not.
    About 30,000 Gulf War veterans are to be notified in the next few weeks that they probably came in contact with low levels of sarin nerve gas after being told in 1997 that they had escaped exposure.
   About 30,000 thought to have been exposed will get letters saying they probably were not.
    "These are very low levels -- low enough that there is no expectation of a health risk," Austin Camacho, spokesman for the Pentagon's office on Gulf War illnesses, said Friday.
    Still, the revision will again "raise questions of credibility" among critics of the government's now decade-long effort to answer health questions of vets who served, said Dr. Vinh Cam, an immunologist and member of the Special Oversight Board for Department of Defense Investigation of Gulf War Chemical and Biological Incidents.
    The board's chairman, former Sen. Warren Rudman, said the revision proved the opposite.
    "It shows [Pentagon officials] have tried very hard, with all the evidence, to come back and re-evaluate," he said.
    "Does it mean any more people are ill? So far there is no evidence of this."
    The revision in who was exposed is based on better information on such details as weather and troop locations, said oversight board spokesman Roger Kaplan.
    The issue in question for veterans is what was the health effect -- and how many people were exposed to it -- when U.S. forces demolished Iraqi munitions and rockets at the Khamisiyah weapons depot in March 1991. It turned out some of the rockets contained highly toxic sarin and the even more lethal cyclosarin chemical warfare agents that paralyze the nerves, shutting down the lungs and other organs.
    In a review of work done and still under way on a number of Gulf War studies, Bernard Rostker, Pentagon undersecretary for personnel, told the oversight board in its last public session Friday that officials in the coming weeks will release a report revising figures on which of the troops deployed in the depot area might have been exposed.
    The report is to be announced in mid- to late November, and letters will be sent the day of the announcement to 110,000 troops who were in and around the area of Khamisiyah, Pentagon officials said.
    Of that number, about 99,000 were told in 1997 letters that they were thought to have been exposed and 11,000 told that they were not.
    Although those numbers remain the same, the specific people thought exposed has changed because the new study uses better information in areas including weather and troop locations, Kaplan said.
    A study last year concluded that veterans exposed to sarin and cyclosarin in the war had no more health problems than those not exposed and so the gas isn't necessarily to blame for illnesses reported by thousands of Gulf War vets.
    Kirt Love, a critic of government handling of Gulf War illness studies who says he is a disabled veteran from the war, blasted the Pentagon after hearing the news at Friday's meeting. "They are still concealing records," he said.
    Gulf War illness symptoms include memory problems, nervous system disorders, fatigue and rash. Questions or comments? | Paid archives | Message boards
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